What’s that they say? If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry?
Well, Louisiana in general, and New Orleans in particular, have experienced so much angst since last Mardi Gras that this year’s Carnival floats gave everyone an awful lot to laugh at. Always a fascinating measure of the collective zeitgeist, the 2015 satire season hit all the highs — er, lows — from the governor’s acute case of wanderlust to celebrity scandals to hidebound New Orleans’ changing face.
Late-breaking news is always a challenge for Carnival krewes, given how much planning goes into concocting parade themes and designing the floats that flesh them out. But given the total bummer of a Saints season, several krewes had floats ready to update once the Benson family’s succession fight spilled into public view late last month.
The 15-year-old Krewe of Muses, which riffed on all things adolescent with a parade titled “Are you there, God? It’s us, Muses” (an homage to Judy Blume’s coming-of-age novel “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret”), already had a gridiron-themed “Spin the Bottle” float, where the bottle might land on either “Drew Brees is our hero” or “Drew Brees is overpaid,” on “Worship Rob Ryan” or “Fire Rob Ryan.” A last-minute addition of “Gayle” or “Rita” brought the float up to the minute. (Full disclosure: the Krewe of Muses is my personal home team; I’ve been a member since 2002.)
Le Krewe d’Etat, which capitalized on its assigned date with its “Frid E’tat the 13th” parade, riffed on the tradition of celebratory Superdome second-lines on a float called “Never Open an Umbrella Indoors.” A tearful Rita LeBlanc, owner Tom Benson’s recently ousted granddaughter, appeared on the back carrying out a box of her belongings.
Timeliness points go to both krewes once again for putting newsy spins on other existing floats.
Krewe d’Etat’s “Scream Queens” float about TV talking heads added a depiction of NBC anchor Brian Williams, suspended from his job for telling tall tales — including, perhaps, of his time in New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina. Williams is pictured on the back of the float wearing a robe from the Ritz-Carlton hotel. “I see dead people,” he says.
Muses’ “Peer Pressure” float pictured Gov. Bobby Jindal as a marionette whose strings are being pulled by the hard-line national conservatives he’s trying so desperately to please. A late touch referenced both the state budget’s devastating effect on higher education and Jindal’s recent over-the-top rhetoric on radical Islam. It depicted Jindal in an LSU T-shirt with the words “No-Go Zone” across the front.
Where the governor was concerned, just about everyone piled on. Tucks, which staged a superhero-themed parade, called him “Piyush, the Boy Wonder.” The Knights of Chaos honed in on his infamous Common Core flip-flop, depicting the Rhodes Scholar in a dunce cap and giving him an “F” in “Common Sense.” Krewe du Vieux chimed in with a float about the “Common Whore Curriculum.”
New Orleans-specific satire was popular, as usual. Some floats poked fun at the influx of new New Orleanians — and, thanks to a notoriously unfortunate quote in the New York Times citing the alleged absence of a certain trendy green as one of the city’s retro charms, there were also plenty of jokes about kale (which is actually quite readily available, even if some of it is fried). Riders on Muses’ “Learner’s Permit” float wore “Proud to Kale it Home” bumper stickers on their hats. Krewe D’Etat’s “Night of the Living Hipster” imagined a world in which the old-school Bywater seafood joint Jack Dempsey’s serves gluten-free kale po-boys.
Others focused on the city’s uneasy march toward technical modernization. The much-contested ride-hailing service Uber was another frequent target. One Krewe du Vieux float renamed the city “Uberville.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu didn’t escape notice. His habit of dividing the world into friend and enemy camps was the subject of Muses’ “Cool Kids Table” float. The follicly challenged mayor also made a cameo on the krewe’s hair-covered “Hairy Situations” float. “Damn,” he’s pictured saying.
Nor did Landrieu’s sister, recently defeated U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. She was recast as a frightening “Bloody Mary” by Krewe d’Etat and pictured smoking a pipeline on a Chaos float.
“Key Stoned,” that float read.